Tuesday, November 01, 2005

To network or not to network

So today I got yet another letter someone had sent to my advisor requesting applicants, and it's a good place, so I figured I should go ahead and do it. They asked for some information that none of the other places asked for, as such, so I was going through some old material I had from when I met with a (mostly useless and extremely overpriced) career coach.

One of the things she had me do was make a list of potential contacts at various places where I was considering applying. I was supposed to then actually contact these people and make sure they know who I am, so when I applied they would help me out (because, the theory goes, they would have been immediately won over by my obvious charm and be glad to help).

Anyway so I ended up actually contacting only a few of these people, but those were all for purely scientific reasons and all turned out great. Looking back at this list, a lot of these places aren't advertising for someone like me this year, yada yada, so there are reasons why it makes no sense to contact the people I originally had listed.

Now I'm wondering if I should be looking up more appropriate people, banging on doors and saying, "Hey, heads up! I'm applying to your department!" .... or something to that effect.

Thing is, it's really not in my personality to self-promote quite that much. My cover letter comes across as confident, that's true. But cold-calling (even over email) seems a bit much to me if I can't come up with some other relevant excuse. Sure, I could do it, but I would feel squeamish and otherwise embarrassed at being so incredibly pushy.

Wouldn't I? Isn't it pushy?

I'm thinking about this because I'm a bit sick of doing experiments that are mostly frustrating, and not hearing anything back about the (gigantic pile of) applications I already sent. Should I be doing more? Will I hate myself more if I do it, and play politics (or attempt to, anyway) or if I don't do it (and miss the chance)?

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At 8:11 PM, Blogger Jane said...

I would say do it, if you already know someone (well, know them well enough to send them a quick email) at the places to which you're applying. Or, if you have contacts that have friends or acquaintances at those places, just send your contacts a quick email saying "hey, I'm on the market and I'm applying to X, just thought I'd let you know". Nothing wrong with that at all. Yeah, it feels weird, but I think most people want to lend a helping hand wherever possible, and sometimes having even the smallest iota of a personal connection to an application is enough to move that application to the "further consideration" list. Good luck!

At 9:30 PM, Blogger John said...

I think it is a bit weird that I have to say this, but of course you should call people in the department you are interested in, if you know them. It is a bit challenging of one's tact to make the call something other than "here I am, hire me", but here are some openings.

"I saw the ad for your department, what is the background of this search, and am I appropriate?"

"I understand your job description, but how does your department relate to this Institute and that other department?"

One way to look at this is no one wants to hire someone who will just hide in their office; they want an extrovert who will seek them out when necessary, as they seek out graduate students, post-docs, and funding agencies.

A can-do, forward-looking attitude is good, and by all means do not complain about anything when making initial contacts.

At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you haven't looked at the career forum on the Science website, you should check it out. It's supposed to be geared toward industry, but it's heavily populated by academics who give insightful advice on applying for tt positions.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Dr J. said...

I think networking is one of those things that guys do naturally and girls tend not too for fear of being pushy. Do it. As my husbands boss said "No one is going to try and find out what great things you do. You have to tell them."

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Inky Circus said...

god knows it's the evil that any inherent anti-keener has to wrassle with. but i agree with Dr. J. do it. what have you got to lose? and at the very least they aren't gonna refuse you the job cause you very oh-so minorly pestered them. x

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Jill said...

Another smart strategy is to do more research on the people there and see if you know someone who knows them. A friend of mine of the see-her-once-a-year-at-conferences variety did this for a job she's interested in. She actually emailed me and said hey, I'm interested in this job, and I saw that you're on the board of reviewers for a journal run by NN who's at the department the job opening is at. Could you do a virtual introduction?

I was really impressed at how thoroughly she'd done her research, and since I think she does great work, I was more than happy to write an enthusiastic email about her to my other connection at the place that's hiring. Even if I'd had a less "wow" feeling about my conference friend, I'd have definitely written a email about her to the editor of the journal I review for - of course I'd like to help out! She wrote back to me saying she'd checked out my conference friend's website after reading my email and that it looked awesome. She's not on the search committee, as it turns out, but I've gotta think she's going to mention it.

Anyway, it was a strategy I'd not really thought about before which seemed really smart to me. A bit more work, definitely, but worth it for a job you really want. You're quite likely to have a contact who's got some connection to someone there...

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Adam Solomon said...

I'm working on the college apps (for mere undergrads), so it's a bit different and such pushiness is more expected, but in a situation like you, it's definitely a good idea, I think, to network at the places you are really aiming for. Try to find people doing similar research to yours, or research that just interests you, and propose potential collaborations if you end up at that place.

I mean, even in the ultra-competitive college admissions game, it's always best to have an excuse--I met one astrophysicist at Harvard to discuss his research, which is similar to mine, and to discuss research opportunities if I end up there; I met another astrophysicist at the same place to discuss Harvard's astro curriculum; and I met an astrophysicist at Caltech because he's a close collaborator of my advisor's (and now of mine, too), so there was a good deal of research to be discussed. Of course, now they all know who I am and I certainly think (hope) it will help me out at both institutions. The same probably applies for you, no? Use research and potential opportunities as an "in", and make sure they know who you are!


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